In the Internet age we have grown accustomed to the idea of finding our match online, screening for ‘the One’ based on the data provided. The novel Matched by Ally Condie takes this idea a step further. Matched takes place in a world where the Society has complete control over people’s lives, which include deciding who someone will love. Who people will marry is decided by the Society’s Officials who have made selections based on optimal results. The administrators of the Society don’t just use analysis and probability to make love matches, they also determine what career someone will have and they have even whittled down art and poetry to what they have selected as the Hundred Best.
The marriage matches are revealed during a formal ceremony with overtones of prom; the prospective matches dress in formalwear and enjoy a luxurious meal. When their name is called, they stand and their match is revealed via a screen because the matches may come from different provinces. Each person matched is given a data card with their match’s photo and information to learn more about the person they will be expected to marry. It doesn’t seem as if the main character, Cassia, will need the data as it turns out that her perfect match is her childhood best friend Xander who even lives in her neighborhood. Nevertheless, after the ceremony she dutifully looks at the microcard and instead of seeing a photo of Xander, another face appears. The face belongs to Ky, a boy with a mysterious past who doesn’t fit into this perfect Society.
Cassia is told that the image was a mistake, but she begins to doubt whether the Society is so perfect after all. Her doubts grow after she is gifted with a poem by her grandfather before his ‘release.’ The poem is not one of the Chosen Hundred and suddenly she and her family are at risk by a Society that will not tolerate any ‘aberrations’, particularly the Aberration called Ky.
I find it interesting that there has been a spate of books recently about dystopian societies. Unlike the action of the Hunger Games series, Matched focuses more on the intellectual questioning and awakening of Cassia, though there is always a sense of menace and a hint of violence by the officials of the Society. Are these books a reaction to our current society where personal liberties and freedom sometimes feel like they are taken to the extreme? Do we sometimes long for someone who will use critical thinking and make the hard decisions for us? After all, how many of us have chosen unwisely in relationships and career? Yet, once set on that path, where would a society draw the line? In a society based on rational thinking and probability, what makes the Society in this book qualified to judge the best art or literature, which is much more subjective than matching careers? The book implies that this kind of thinking is a slippery slope. It also raised interesting thoughts about government control in a time when one of the biggest public debates has been the size and role of our own government and how much control it should have over the lives of citizens.
Some have criticized the romantic triangle in the book for not fleshing out Cassia’s two matches, however, I think that’s short-sighted. First, I think initially the two men in her life serve the main plot point which is her awakening to the disadvantages of the Society she has grown up in. I also think her feelings reflect experiences we have had in real life relationships. The friendship which grows into love, versus the mysterious stranger who offers you the opportunity to be someone different than you have always been. Love is never as much about the other person as it’s really about ourselves, what we learn and the choices we make.